A Facebook Conversation on the Cartoon Controversy: Yousef M.


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Yousef

Adam, this is a free country and I will defend everyone’s right, including yours, to express their opinions against anyone who would try to censor it through violence or fear.

That being said, I want you to know why many Muslims, including myself, find this cartoon offensive, inaccurate, and taking away from the whole point of freedom of speech. Denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in several European countries punishable by fines and even jail time. Yet no one would suggest “Everyone Deny the Holocaust Day” with anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews and reenacting passion plays is an appropriate means of combating that censorship. I have the right to publish material railing against ‘n*ggers’, “k*kes”, “f*gs”, etc., especially when such words are censored by our society largely out of fear of offending, but, last time I checked, there is no movement for “Everyone Say N*gger” day. I love South Park and I’m glad they correctly pointed out the hypocrisy of censoring the Prophet’s image amidst all the other obscene material, but, if this is truly about freedom of expression, then there are better avenues to challenge this censorship (there are many historical images of Muhammad made by Muslims, why not republish those?) that would make Muslims themselves question such views.

The Prophet Mohammed is dearer to many people than their own families. Just as they would take offense having their mother or father drawn in such a matter, portraying the Prophet with a bomb on his head or inaccurately portraying him as a pedophile (if you want to get into the details of the Prophet’s life, I’d be happy to discuss it with you) is something people do take personally, esp. in today’s atmosphere.

Jeremy

To be fair, there pretty much is a “deny the holocaust day” on April 20 every year where despicable whack jobs from all over the globe celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Of course, it is a bit of a paradox in that if one denies the holocaust, then what is the point of being a neo-nazi and venerating Hitler as without that tidbit all he did was lose a war.

In any case, you are right that more rational people would never sign on to a day that supported or denied the genocide, but the last time I checked we Jews were not exactly threatening death to anyone who dared to express antisemitic views. Threatening people with death for expressing unpopular viewpoints, no matter how offensive those viewpoints may or may not be to you, is never a reasonable reaction.

That is the issue. That and the fact that moderate Muslims never stand up on their own to renounce terrorism and stand in the way of these actions. Instead of voices questioning the “Draw Mohammed Day” how about some mainstream Muslim voice somewhere standing up to say that threatening death to the creators of South Park or murdering Theo Van Gogh is absolutely inexcusable. Other religions police themselves. When some radical Christian idiot murders an abortion doctor, mainstream Christian voices everywhere condemn it (sure, some do not, and they are marginalized and isolated for their behavior, and it is easy to do so because the vast majority of Christian groups condemn the action so vocally).

There is an entire movement of anti-Zionist Jews throughout the world who challenge Israel on its treatment of the Palestinian territories. While there is disagreement about the issue, there is a whole group of pacifist Jews who support a Palestinian state and reject settlements. Last I checked, there was no suggestion that these folks should be killed. In fact, the violence in the entire issue is decidedly one sided, with terrorist Palestinians attempting to murder Israeli civilians.

In any case, a simple attempt by the Muslim community to police its own extremists would go a long way in preventing this kind of outpouring from others. In the meantime, of course all Muslims are not terrorists, but far too many ARE apologists for terrorism

Josh

Well said, Jeremy.
Yousef

Jeremy,

I agree that any and all death threats should be condemned, but, quite frankly, many Muslims have. Even open-minded and reasonable people such as yourselves only read or are exposed to what CNN and Fox News tell you. Revolution Muslim, literally a blog written by 2 guys no one knows, get national media attention, but articles by mainstream Muslims and organizations condemning censorship, terrorism and even foiling terrorist plots (Aliou Niasse vs. Faisal Shahzad; CAIR helping the FBI vs. 5 Americans arrested in Pakistan) are never propped up in the same way. I would kindly suggest going to websites like altmuslim.com or reading articles by Arsalan Iftikhar and Wajahat Ali rather saying “Well, I”VE never heard anyone say xyz.” b/c that is something anyone can claim.

By same token, Jeremy, there are many in this country and around the world who would disagree with Christian/Jewish groups being as vocal toward their extremists b/c quite frankly, the media never uses phrases like “Christian/Jewish extremists” when referring to religiously motivated killings like abortion doctors in Kansas & Buffalo, the Hutaree militia, McVeigh, or Jewish settlers harassing and murdering Palestinians in the West Bank or Israel bombing UN facilities. When Faisal Shahzad does it, it is automatically assumed to be b/c of his religion (even though the bulk of his beef w/ America is foreign policy). He wasn’t blowing stuff up b/c Americans go to strip clubs. Here is an excellent article that discusses this double standard: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2010/05/06/pakistani_terrorist_personal_essay

the point is, the Internet is vast enough to enable people to tend towards listening to news that confirms their own views. Christians and Jews are often ignorant of mainstream Muslims b/c they don’t pay attention to the news we do that is also available online (the “Obama is Muslim” scandal affects us differently) and Muslims are ignorant of, for example, the many Jews who are working towards a just peace with their Palestinian neighbors.

But, again, my point in writing was not to point fingers. Just b/c I find such cartoons offensive doesn’t mean I ‘sympathize’ with people giving death threats. People who are against abortion don’t necessarily ‘sympathize’ with George Tiller’s murderers. Before rushing to judgment, I would kindly ask you talk to Muslim-Americans themselves before concluding what you feel “we” should or should not be doing.

Adam

My point in subscribing to this day isn’t to offend Muslims. My point is to counter the extreme ridiculousness that occurs when anyone portrays Muhammad (as a cartoon, in a movie, or the like). Jesus Christ, well…a little statute of Jesus Christ, can be placed in a jar of piss and we Christians grit our teeth and express sadness since it’s such a terrible depiction. But we don’t kill people over it. 

No one should die for such expressions – no matter how incendiary. An expression is just that; an expression.

Yousef

I understand your intention, Adam. I’m just letting you know that even well-intentioned actions can have counterproductive results. If I started putting a sign up on my front lawn saying “All n*ggers die” to show using the n-word is my right, I’m sure some African-Americans would literally be up in arms against me, but that doesn’t detract from the message’s offensiveness. You don’t kill people over depictions of the Virgin Mary in piss, but you’d still be offended and would speak up about it regardless of how others may react irrationally. That’s exactly what I’m doing.

Jeremy

Thank you for that link, Yousef. It has given me quite a lot to think about. What you say makes quite a bit of sense. My motivation and thinking on the subject was really pretty much in line with what Adam has expressed here. Certainly, my intention was not to disparage Islam or the faith of any Muslim people. Your point makes quite a bit of sense, is quite rational, and really has changed my thinking some

Rocco

A wise old man once told me…..” F-em if they can’t take a joke “

Adam

It’s not a joke, though. I take umbrage to a religion whose followers threaten death [and sometimes carry it out] when their glorious prophet – whose life is riddled with inconsistency, contradiction, moral failings, and the like – is depicted in any form, benign or otherwise.

I really don’t want to overlook the fact that this whole day started because individuals were killed for their depictions of Muhammad. Then South Park, after already being censored for drawing an actual Muhammad-character, drew him inside a bear-suit. This inflamed the militant sentinels of Islam. To the point where they were both indirectly threatened with death. Hence “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”

It’s absolutely ridiculous; and though you may have a right to be (or not to be) offended, my right to offend is greater. I can have an honest discussion about the merits of this so-called “peaceful religion;” I can engage in dialogue with my Muslim acquaintances, and I can rise above stereotypical behavior that attempts to link terrorism to all members of a religion. But what I cannot do is frame the conversation to think there needs to be a tete-e-tete regarding precious Muhammad’s face being plastered everywhere.


Adam

But I will ask you this, Yousef. How is this cartoon inaccurate? Did Muhammad not take for himself a 6-year old bride, Aisha, and then consummate the marriage some three years later?
Yousef

Thanks, Jeremy. I’m always of the opinion that, when people simply start talking to each other, they’ll realize that their views are really not that far off. I do think people should have a right to offend (as Adam points out). If someone dislikes Islam/Christianity/the Kardashians/what have you, they should never feel scared to express their opinions, draw cartoons, and, yes, make fun of them. Many people, Muslims included, need to learn this and grow up about it, which is why I’m not completely against the intention of “Draw Muhammad” day.

At the same time, sometimes what we choose to say and do is more important than what we can say or do. I think we can promote a lot of these principles without resorting to so much confrontation and creating an “us” vs. “them” mentality. I’ve seen this within the Muslim community as well, where legitimate criticism of Israel boils into “the Jews” amongst some people and it saddens me. Pride distorts piety and we miss out on all the opportunities for peace b/c we were only interested in satisfying our immediate emotions w/o thinking how that would affect the other side (e.g. comparing the Holocaust to the treatment of Palestinians) that will alienate those who may otherwise listen to or agree with you. Just my 2 cents.
Yousef

Adam, before I address your question, can I say your tone suggests some lingering hostility toward the religion. You are entitled to your opinions, as I said, but you can understand why such remarks make many Muslims feel much of impetus behind “Draw Muhammad” day is motivated by more than just an abstract desire for freedom of expression and is, in part, motivated by a lot of pre-existing negative feelings towards Islam itself and/or Muslims specifically. Perhaps what you are not aware of is that, for many Muslims, drawing any depiction, positive or negative, of Muhammad, God, even other prophets like Jesus and Moses, amounts to a form of idolatry (Islam, like Judaism, is very iconoclastic). Whether this stance has always been the same has been an area of historical debate  (see: http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full/), but it is safe to say that, today, many Muslims feel depictions of God or Muhammad take away from the Islamic spiritual message of human brotherhood and racial equality and that Muslims fear turning the human prophet, Muhammad, into a Christian Jesus Christ as God/Son of God, when Jesus is also considered a human prophet in the Islamic tradition. Again, this is not to justify people’s actions or attitudes, but inform you why this is simply more than stifling negativity. Jerry Vines, Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, amongst others, have been calling the Prophet all sorts of things for years, yet there are no newsworthy calls to kill them. Just yesterday, the head of the Tea Party Express stated Muslims worshipped a “Monkey God named Allah” and that Muhammad was a psychotic and deranged pedophile. Muhammad’s image has even graced the halls of the Supreme Court building for decades without violence so you’ll understand why I would suggest that geo-political events and wars often shape people’s fickle attitudes on religious matters as well.
Yousef

Before addressing Aisha herself, it’s helpful to recap the Prophet Muhammad’s life up until that point. Born in the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, orphaned at any early age, raised by his grandfather and uncle, shepherd and trader throughout his youth. Earned the nickname “al-Amin” (The trustworthy) for his virtues. At the age of 25, a 40 year old widow named Khadija proposed to him after she hired him for several trading expeditions. At the age of 40, Muslims believe Mohammed, while meditating in a cave, was visited by the Angel Gabriel, which began the gradual revelation of the final book of God, The Qur’an (“The Recitation”). Muhammad’s early converts, outside of his family, were women, slaves, the poor, and downtrodden of Mecca. The belief in One God (“Allah” in the Arabic language, similar to “Eloh” in Hebrew and “Elaha” in Aramaic), though different, was nothing extraordinarily novel for the pagan Arabs, but the social message was: care for the poor and orphaned, end the Arabian practice of female infanticide, empower women’s social & political rights, end the cycles of bloody vengeance, accept that poor and rich, black & white, were equal in the eyes of the Lord. Despite this message of social change, Muhammad and his followers were tortured and often killed for their beliefs. He sent some of his early followers to seek protection with the Christian king of Abyssinia, which is quite a beautiful story if you’re interested in hearing it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kamran-pasha/how-the-story-of-christma_b_403664.html ). No calls for war or retribution were ever made, but eventually the persecution became so great that Muhammad’s wife and uncle died due to an embargo on the community and Muhammad and his followers emigrated to a city north of Mecca which is today referred to as Medina.
Yousef

That’s really a bare-bones recap, but it’ll have to do. Muhammad’s marital life up until that point had been a 24 year monogamous relationship with the elderly, widowed Khadija up until her death. After she passed away, Muhammad married several women over the course of his mission. In the 7th century, polygamy was an accepted institution as it had been for generations before and after in many different societies, including Christian Europe and Africa. One important function of marriage was forging alliances. One can open up the Bible to find numerous examples of that. The majority of the women Mohammed married in this period were older women who had been widowed when, for example, their husbands had been killed by the pagan Arabs. Some were the daughters of important leaders whom Mohammed wanted to further establish ties with. Abu Bakr, who would later become the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad’s death, had a daughter named Aisha who was married to the Prophet at an early age. Her exact age has been debated for centuries. Some accounts have her as old as 14 or 15 when married and consummated at 19 while other accounts do state she was 6 and consummated when she was 9 or 10 (I tend to believe the former as do many Muslims). I would be lying if I told you Muslims have not struggled with this notion in the past (which religion doesn’t have its share of controversy?), but it is also important to understand the era. Attaining the age of puberty and having your first menses was considered the defining event in a girl becoming eligible for marriage. Christians often forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was herself, like most Jewish maidens in her time period, married at the age of 12-14 to a 90 year old widowed Joseph while drawing lots and gave birth to Jesus only a few years later. Would society frown upon such an arrangement today? Yes. But can we approach a 1st or 7th century society by the 21st century’s standard?

The main point is Mohammed, as with most figures, is still a product of his time. Muslims must examine his intentions based on his actions as a whole. If he was truly a power-hungry “pedophile”, he would have married young virgin upon young virgin. Instead he had a monogamous relationship with an elderly widow for 24 years, upon whose death Mohammad married women who were more often than not widows and even older than him at such a late stage in his life. In fact, Aisha was said to have been the only virgin whom he ever married and it is no coincidence she was Abu Bakr’s daughter. Mohammed’s interests were in the protection of his community and ensuring a future for them. He understood the power of marriage to transform the society (he intentionally had his adopted son and former slave, Zaid, who was of African descent, betrothed to an aristocratic Meccan convert who was actually interested in marrying Mohammed , in order to demonstrate racial equality). Perhaps the institution of marriage is not viewed in the same way today as it was then, but I can recognize social revolution when i see it. Needless to say, this was only a part of his mission.

I would like to go on and on, but this is probably enough for now and I’m spent to be honest. If you want to discuss this in further detail, perhaps we can meet (are you in New York?) or correspond via email. I understand if you dislike the religion or Mohammed, you’re not the first nor the last, but I only ask you understand many who do love Islam have very sincere & legitimate reasons for it. Religion has always been controversial, but I like to think of it as history of man’s steps towards morals. If you’re interested in reading more, I’d highly recommend “Mother of the Believers” by Kamran Pasha, an historical novel written from the perspective of Aisha.
Yousef

(I also wanted to emphasize polygamy is tolerated at best and discouraged at worst in Islam. The Qur’an has only 1 verse addressing it, which was seem as a reform on Jewish customs at the time, and states monogamy as the norm w/ polygamy only in certain circumstances.)


Clint

It is said that Muslims do not wish to have images of Muhammed, for fear that true followers would idolize his images.

I wonder if perhaps they haven’t over-corrected, and by treating the image with such strict reverence, some are, in fact, idolizing it in the truest sense of the word.
Yousef

Hey Clint, I’m sure some Muslims might actually agree with you. Historically, there have been depictions made of Mohammed by Muslims themselves (there’s nothing in the Qur’an that explicitly forbids it, it’s a theological concept that has developed over time). Then again, one need look no further than the debate over the race of Jesus (African churches drew him as black, Europeans as blonde-haired, blue eyed, the Orthodox as olive skinned) to see how the introduction of imagery can often detract from focusing on the spiritual message (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_of_Jesus).

Your comment reminds me of something I read recently: “You know his name wasn’t really Jesus Christ, right? Jesus is just the Greek translation of Yeshua, which translates from Hebrew to Joshua. But his name wasn’t Josh Christ, either, since his parents weren’t Joseph and Mary Christ. So it’s really not blasphemy to say “Jesus Christ”, because it’s not taking the right name in vain. Isn’t religion fun?” :)

Yousef M. is an attorney from Buffalo, NY

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11 thoughts on “A Facebook Conversation on the Cartoon Controversy: Yousef M.

  1. bravo bravo yousef you really expressed the deep felt feelings of the muslims with so much hikmat. I am realy impresed by your knowledge. keep it up my prayers are with you.

  2. Great responses Yousef. Well-articulated. Your stamina to respond is totally admirable! Reading responding to these attacks can be exhausting. Why people find the time to attack a faith that they haven’t even begun to research outside of the superficial nonsense on TV and hate-filled websites makes no sense to me. But wonders never cease. I’m glad that you had the strength to provide some eye-opening answers and hopefully the concerned persons will take the time to read about it rather than just being embararassed by their lack of research on context and knowledge in general.

  3. Cartoons are only the iceberg tip
    Muslims “do and do not actions
    Do: Outrage against cartoons
    Do not: Antiterorisms demonstration
    Do: Building Mosks worldwide
    Do not:Permit building of non Islam praying homes in many Muslim controlled areas
    Do: Demanding freedom for all aspects of Muslim culture worldwide
    Do not: Demand Muslim recognition of free&peaceful coexistence among all cultures
    Do: Demand free Islamic preaching
    Do not: Stop incitement& individual Jihad against the host country

    • @ O’Raly

      I’m a Pakistani so would like to enlighten you about Pakistan only which is FYI an Islamic republic!

      -There have been several rallies by people from all walks of life protesting against terrorism! Everyone in Pakistan has been in someway or the other been affected by terrorism!

      – There are several churches Pakistan, in fact some are situated opposite to the mosque! There are several Hindu temples in Pakistan as well and Pakistani Hindus have barred Muslims/Christians from entering the temple, Hindu priests have come from India for preaching and other activities. There is also a Gurdwara a Sikh worshipping temple where every Sikh comes from around the world for annual pilgrimage.

      – When there was a misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims which led to killing of 6 Christians every well known Islamic scholar in Pakistan condemned the killing and said the culprits would be answerable to God and that they should be given death sentence for killing an innocent human being.

      – Many scholars have said that no one is allowed to kill an innocent human being be it anywhere in the world because the Holy Quran says [5:32] “Whoever kills a person except for murder or for spreading mischief in the land (through law), it is as if he has killed all mankind! And if a person saves a life it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

      Regards!

  4. I don’t get this referance. According to Islam Mary never married. So how can this referance be used in this context?

    “Christians often forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was herself, like most Jewish maidens in her time period, married at the age of 12-14 to a 90 year old widowed Joseph while drawing lots and gave birth to Jesus only a few years later.”

    • @ Sarah,

      I’ve never heard any Muslim scholar everdenying The Virgin Mary was married to Joseph as in the Biblical account. It’s just really been a non-issue b/c it’s not relevant to any of the stories mentioning Mary in the Qur’an. Can I ask where you might have heard this?

      Regardless of what Muslims believe about Mary’s marriage, the point being made, I think, was that even within the Christian tradition, there are examples of marriages that were considered customary/normal at the time but are frowned upon by modern day society. It just seems like Islamic beliefs are put under a larger microscope than similar Christian beliefs.

  5. Good going. I am just glad that some Muslim, that too a Pakistani is having an ‘educated’ conversation regarding this unwanted cotroversy.

    Yousef, you rock man. 😀

    Thanks for sharing Waj Bhai. 🙂

  6. Thank you Yousef! It’s such a relief finding this rare example of civil debate in an online forum, on this or any other issue. The substance is great but I’m especially struck by the patience, courtesy and thoughtfulness of your responses.

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